Skip to main content

Sector News, 31 August - 04 September 2009

Clearing off. Education Guardian, 01 September 2009

Gap year travel firms have reported interest rising by 75 per cent.  In a year where the number of university places do not match the numbers applying, ‘time out’ is the option for thousands of would be undergraduates.  Whilst there is obvious disappointment for many who failed to obtain a university place, the advantages of earning money abroad, travelling and gaining new skills is proving attractive.

September pledge under threat.  Education Guardian, 01 September 2009.

Sixth form college leaders are concerned that there is insufficient funding for places in post sixteen education.  Hartlepool Sixth Form College principal, Rick Wells, says his budget is unlikely to be able to meet the demand created by record GCSE results.  The Government injected cash last spring and that has helped many to prepare for what is expected to be an avalanche of applicants.

How did we get into this mess over fees?  Education Guardian, 01 September 2009.

Comment: Jonathan Wolff, professor of philosophy, University College London.

Jonathan Wolff discusses the recent history of our approach to overseas student fees. He hypothesises that with a cap on Government funded students a high paying overseas student may well get preferential treatment (in the case of late applicants).

See also: "Surplus requirements", "Complicated visa rules could see international student numbers fall by 20%".

The Big Question: Are Diplomas working and what can be done to improve them? The Independent, 02 September 2009.

The Government has just added five new courses to its flagship programme the Diploma for 14 – 19 year olds.  This is despite the initial take up being low and the ministers facing a barrage of criticism about their desire to replace GCSEs and A-levels with the Diploma.   Enthusiasts for the Diploma argue that, particularly at a time of recession, the Diploma gives more options to students.  Enthusiasts also argue that different students need different teaching systems to increase their self-confidence and enthusiasm for education. Critics argue that had A-levels and GCSEs been phased out on the introduction of the new Diploma the ensuing two-tier system may not have been an issue.  Many schools are opting out of GCSEs and A levels in favour of international qualifications and there is a split in Conservative and Labour thinking on the worth and future of the Diploma.  The paper comes to a somewhat derogatory conclusion as to whether students should sign up for the Diploma.

Dismal Amazon ratings belie success of print on demand. THE, 03 September 2009.

University libraries are steadily increasing their number of digitised books.  Whether Google’s aspirations to digitise every book in existence come to fruition may be doubtful.  However, universities are pressing on with their digitising programmes, albeit that many books hold interest for a limited audience.

Winning the war of independence & Freedom eclipsed by danger.  THE, 03 September 2009.

Opinion: “Winning the war of independence”: Paul A Taylor, senior lecturer in communication theory, University of Leeds.

Freedom eclipsed by danger”: David J Gunkel, professor in the department of communication, Northern Illinois University.

Two features discussing the differences between the lives of lecturers in UK and USA universities.  Paul A Taylor’s article compares what he sees as the UK’s over bureaucratic university system with the autonomy enjoyed by US lecturers in a system which tops world league tables and which by UK standards is awash with money.  He maintains that the scholarly self worth felt by US academics is now almost extinct in the UK.  David J Gunkel admits that the UK emphasis on instructional management and oversight is quite baffling.  “Course content in the US is the sole responsibility and intellectual property of the faculty member”.

Other major articles in this week’s THE:

The small scientist: An article about Alec Jeffreys’ discovery of DNA fingerprinting.

1984: Tom Palaima explains why he believes that 1984 is just around the corner.

A-levels will not be made harder, exams watchdog says. The Independent, 03 September 2009.

The Head of Ofqual, the independent exams watchdog, says that there are no plans to make it harder for pupils to obtain high grade A-levels. Kathleen Tattershall, who chairs Ofqual, says that consistency in standards is the watchdog’s main aim.  Furthermore, time is required to ‘bed in’ the A* grades to see if they sort out highflying students.  Ms Tattershall also holds the belief that more needs to be done to make schools, pupils and parents more aware of the new Diplomas.

Diploma Results

Last week saw the publication of the first round of results for the new Diploma.  The Independent covers the story under "A-levels will not be made harder, exams watchdog says". About 12,000 students are taking the two-year Diploma option, of which 600 opted to complete in one year.  However, this year's results show that only 200 passed, the remaining 400 failed through non achievement of the functional skills element. 

The Telegraph's headline is “Two thirds of students studying diplomas fail to get a grade”, commenting that the poor results are due to students failing basic maths, English and IT.

Bright sparks: How the diploma is lighting up the curriculum.  The Independent, 03 September 2009.

Whilst the Russell group of universities are lukewarm towards Diplomas as an entry qualification to universities, it is clear that many students who are taking the courses feel that they are both enjoyable and worthwhile.  One Diploma bucking the trend for university entrance is the Engineering Diploma, offered at A-level standard, which Cambridge University have said is superior to A-levels.

Early results on participation show that the gender imbalance in (apparently) traditional subjects still predominates, for example the course on construction and the built environment at Bassetlaw College Nottinghamshire, only has one girl out of 32 pupils.  The girl in question wishes to become an architect and asks the question “What GCSE would allow me to design my own house?”   She does add that the bricklaying was not to her taste.

The Conservative party has promised to remove the academic diplomas if they win the next election.

American owner of McDonald's of higher education gets foothold in UK market.  The Independent, 03 September 2009.

Apollo Global is the owner of the University of Phoenix, the largest for profit university in the USA.  It has recently taken over the firm that owns the BPP Law School in London.  Phoenix University offers courses to adults and the organisation is adept at delivering education to large numbers of students, cheaply.  Clearly David Willetts, Conservative spokesman for higher education, sees this as a seminal moment.  It fits neatly into the conservative belief that education needs opening up to a wider more commercial audience.   There are those who believe that Apollo will have difficulty establishing itself in the UK.  Professor Mike Thorn, vice chancellor of Anglia Ruskin University, says that Apollo has not managed to successfully establish a base outside of the US. However, he admits that if the cap on tuition fees is lifted the company would find itself in a better position to be competitive.

Students should pay attention to careers when deciding on the best place to study after GCSEs.  The Independent, 03 September 2009.

It is as important to study the environment in to which students may transfer, as it is to understand the courses on offer.  Debbie Smith, head of sixth form at a Surrey comprehensive, comments that A-levels usually mean a choice of sixth form or sixth form college, whilst vocational courses are an FE domain.  However, pupils should consider that school class sizes are smaller than FE, albeit that some FE colleges might refute this. Others, in the article, comment that they have found sixth form colleges treat their students in a more mature way than schools and FE colleges expect students take more responsibility for their own learning.

Teenagers in the dark about Diploma as majority still insists on A-levels. TES, 04 September 2009.

Academics at Reading University have questioned 412 year 11 pupils and concluded that more than a third had little or no knowledge about the Diploma at the start of year 11.  In terms of A-levels, 94 per cent of pupils had some knowledge of the courses.  Amongst other findings, it became apparent that the majority of pupils thought that the Diploma is inferior to A-levels as a route to university.

Providers call for help in Train to Gain crisis.  TES, FE Focus, 04 September 2009.

Independent learning providers say that they are facing bankruptcy because the Learning Skills Council has frozen the Train to Gain budget.  The Association of Learning Providers are asking the Government for more flexibility in the way funding is handled to help them over the crisis.

Bachelors gives way in bid for college degree funding.  TES, FE Focus, 04 September 2009.

The campaign to create a Bachelor of Vocational Studies degree is being abandoned.   Principals would prefer funding to go to more of the existing college HE provision. President of the Association of Colleges, Pat Bacon, says that with pressure on university budgets, colleges fear that their provision will be most at risk. 

Ministerial pledges on special needs training for all falls short.  TES, FE Focus, 04 September 2009.

September was to see the start of a new accreditation for special needs co-ordinators (Sencos). Despite Government pledges that the courses would start this month many will be unavailable.